In the 1800s DuPont assisted many emigrants departing Derry Quay

Thanks to Nate McIlhaney in the US, I've gained fresh insight into the story of emigration from Derry.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 26th May 2018, 5:47 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:48 am

Nate, in researching Donegal-born Bernard and Biddy McIlheaney, who sailed from Derry in April, 1832 on board the ‘John Stamp’ or ‘Philadelphia,’ identified an intriguing letter.

Dated February 24, 1832 and addressed to E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., in other words the DuPont Company, Robert Taylor, the agent for the Company in Philadelphia, writes: “Agreeably to your second letter of the 23rd instant, handed me by Patrick McIlhenny, I have given him an order for two passages from Londonderry to this Port, together with my Bill on James Corscaden & Co. of L.Derry in favour of Bernard McIlhenny for four pounds sterling.”

The memo at the bottom of this letter states: “From L.Derry to Philadelphia: Bernard McIlhenny, $28; Biddy McIlhenny, $28; Bill for £4.0.0. Sterling, $21; Total, $77.”

In other words, DuPont was being billed $77 to cover the passage cost, arranged by Robert Taylor, of Bernard and Biddy McIlhenny, at $28 each, and remittance of £4 to be sent to Bernard McIlhenny in Ireland. Such Bills of Exchange, in this case drawn on James Corscaden & Co, merchant and shipowner of 26 Shipquay Street, enabled friends and relatives in the United States to send money to relatives in Ireland.

This payment by DuPont was effectively a fringe benefit on offer to their employees. It enabled Patrick McIlhenny, who was working at DuPont’s gunpowder works, established 1802, at Hagley along the banks of the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware, to be reunited with his brother, Bernard, and sister, Biddy, long before it would have been possible otherwise. Patrick could not have raised $77 in one lump sum but through the benevolence of DuPont he was able to pay back in monthly instalments to the Company the passage fare and money advance.

Nate identified in a DuPont employee log called ‘the Petite ledger’ account details for both Patrick and Bernard McIlhenny.

It records that in 1835, Patrick’s monthly wage was $20 and that in the same period Bernard, who commenced working for DuPont on March 12, 1835 was paid $15.50 per month. This ledger also records that in five monthly payments, from March to July 1835 inclusive, Bernard paid Patrick McIlhenny $30.95 from his pay packet; presumably a contribution to pay back passage fare and advance of money.

Furthermore, thanks to Nate, I now know about the fantastic range of digital sources relating to the ‘DuPont Company on the Brandywine’ at the Hagley Museum and Library, at, and, in particular, their role in arranging passage for emigrants through Derry port. It is clear from an examination of their ledgers and letters of the company’s agents that in the 19th century DuPont assisted many emigrants from Derry.

I noticed, for example, in their 52-page guide, ‘DuPont Company and Irish Immigration, 1800-1857: A Study of the Company’s Efforts to Arrange Passages for Families of its Workmen’ extensive references to two agents for the Company in Philadelphia, namely Andrew J. Catherwood from 1847 to 1854 and Robert Taylor from 1830 to 1850.

These two men also acted as agents in the middle years of 19th century for the two biggest shipowners in Derry; Andrew J Catherwood, from his Philadelphia office at ’62 North Second Street above Arch’, for J & J Cooke, and Robert Taylor for William McCorkell & Co. I suspect that the McCorkell Line inherited their Philadelphia agent, Robert Taylor, from Taylor’s business association with James Corscaden. The Corscadens and McCorkells were related by marriage.

Through DuPont’s paternalism and their network of agents in Philadelphia, Derry in the late 1820s and early 1830s, became the leading city in Ireland and Britain dealing with pre-paid passages; hence the story of DuPont immigrants is part of the bigger story of Irish immigration and the port of Philadelphia. Indeed it has been said that ‘the Londonderry to Philadelphia route was the oldest Irish emigrant trade route.’

Finally, as a genealogist this case confirms my view that we should not be too concerned about the spelling of a surname when examining ‘historical’ documents. I would see McIlhaney, McIlheaney, McIlhenny etc as variant spellings of the same name.